Hey College Board, students deserve better

By Alex Schupak

As a rising junior, the fear of standardized tests loomed over my head the entire summer. I spent most of my days completing what felt like an endless pile of practice tests and review books to prepare for the exam. I surrendered myself to the College Board, the organization that controls the SAT, just like tens of millions of other students across the country. But with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to rage on across the nation, school districts have made a habit of abruptly canceling SAT testing without giving notice to the College Board, and the College Board has failed to follow up with these school districts in order to keep their customers informed. The company’s refusal to communicate openly about cancellations is continuing to leave students in the dark.

The College Board’s information blackout with students and teachers is nothing new, but the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. In order to better explain their decision-making process and more effectively dissemination exam information, the College Board must improve cooperation with local school districts, ensuring transparency with their customers.

Overseeing a nationwide standardized test is a collaborative effort between the College Board which schedules tests and the school districts that provide exam locations. This year, it’s important to note that the school districts, not the College Board, are in charge of test center cancellations, in accordance with local health guidelines. In the wake of COVID-19, each individual school district has dealt with the effects of the pandemic differently, making it more common for test facilities to continually change their operation status just days — even hours — before the exam.

These late cancellations can cause confusion, as national information from the College Board often contradicts the notices school districts send out to their test-takers.

In these circumstances, it’s crucial that the College Board and local districts establish a heightened level of cooperation to ensure all students are clear on test dates, updates and procedures.

At the start of quarantine, the College Board took a necessary step in fostering open communication by creating an online “SAT Test Center Closings” page, where students can view the status of their individual test. However, the information provided is often incomplete or inaccurate. In some situations, days pass between the time when a test center chooses to cancel an exam and when officials notify the College Board. During such information lapses, countless students are left in the dark because of this simple lack of communication. If solutions were put in place to allow for a more substantial dialogue between test centers and the College Board, most of these issues would be alleviated.

A coordinated newsletter from the College Board to specific school districts could be the most effective means of communicating national messages to the local branches. Newsletters could include information regarding the state of AP testing, AP class pacing and SAT cancellations to keep students up-to-date. This would provide students and educators with easy access to their specific testing exam information from the College Board. That being said, this solution won’t be viable if the students and staff aren’t adequately informed on the process behind scheduling — and cancelling — exams. If the College Board provided outlets for students and teachers to better understand test location closure procedures, then students might feel heard.

The implementation of student and teacher polls, live forums and decision deadlines would all contribute to a more mutually beneficial relationship between the College Board and their customers.

The College Board is an international organization that services millions of students. Ideally, the exam information they distribute should be as uniform as possible, but this is not the case. Ironically, the College Board needs to standardize their own testing procedures.

National deadlines for cancellation announcements can help solve this problem. This would give all test-takers — some of whom are crossing state lines to find an available testing location — a sense of security about the exams. Structural changes to this extent may require a high level of cooperation between school districts and the College Board, but that’s exactly the point. These initiatives are intended to replace the fragmented outreach efforts we have today; it will be worth it.

These changes to the College Board’s strategy could greatly improve teachers’ abilities to receive information and students’ opportunities to perform at their highest levels. When you have millions of high schoolers surrendering their money and time to you, they deserve a certain amount of clarity in return. For the College Board, this means being more forthright with students about test location preparedness. And it needs to be that way, right until the moment pencils hit the answer sheet.